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Archive-name: Couples/mslily03.txt

Archive-author: Various - Genie

Archive-title: Adv of Miss Lilly's Tavern... 3

        With a hiss of steam that always sounded to him like the sigh of a

spent man, the 6:15 from Big Sky pulled into Rattlesnake Gorge's station.

John Frewling teased his watch from his waistcoat by the chain.  Snapping it

open close to his vest, he squinted slightly at the numbers to make them

focus.  6:16; close enough for most folks, but he'd have a word with the

engineer before he claimed his luggage.

        Easing his lanky frame from the second-class carriage, Frewling

adjusted his bowler hat to shield his eyes better from the glare of the

morning sun, just coming over the mountains to the east, and strolled towards

the front of the train.  He traded a wink with the stationmaster, and swung up

into the locomotive, dodging the hot cylinder below the driver's box with

practiced ease.

        A minute and a reprimand later, he dropped out the other side onto the

tracks, and sauntered down the far side of the train, watching the dusty

carriage windows as he made his way back to the luggage car.  No-one ever

looked out the off-side windows when they were boarding, and it was a good

opportunity to make sure his quarry wasn't leaving on the train that had

brought him.  No sign of MacTavish; that was all the better.  Reclaiming his

black leather Gladstone from the handler, Frewling headed purposefully for the

station office.


        "Just so's you know why I'm here," Frewling said, tossing a much-

folded paper onto the stationmaster's desk.  "Not much to do with the rail

line here, but it does affect the Company as a whole." One could hear the

capital letter quite easily in the respectful way he pronounced the word.

Frewling sipped his whiskey, avoiding the crack in the glass.  This wouldn't

do.  The Company would have to send out a new set of glassware to the station.

There were standards to keep, even in the Arizona Territory.

        The stationmaster adjusted his wire-rimmed specs on the end of his

beaky nose and unfolded the paper. WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, the headline

screamed.  Below a badly-made woodcut of a man with dark hair and deep-set


        "My heavens, that's quite a sum, Mr. Frewling."  The stationmaster

smoothed the flyer onto the leather pad of his desk.

        "M-hm," Frewling put down his whiskey half finished and took his boots

off the stationmaster's desk, "and I intend to collect it.

 I haven't had a bonus in my pay for over two months, and it's about that time

again."  He stood, his back crackling as he stretched. =And it'll make a nice

addition to my retirement fund,= Frewling thought, but did not say.

        "Well," said the stationmaster, "do y'have arrangements made for a

place t'stay?"

        "No," Frewling admitted.  "Thought I'd wander down t'the saloon and

see what there is to see along the way."

        "Well, talk to Miss Cotton at the edge of town.  She's got a

respectable rooming house, bed and breakfast, and it's only a dollar a week.

And if you happen by Miss Lily's --"

        Frewling cut him off.  "Business afore pleasure, Perkins. You know

me."  And with that, he picked up his Gladstone and departed.

        =Oh, aye, I know ye, all right,= Perkins thought as he polished off

Frewling's whiskey, wincing as his scraggly mustache caught in the crack in

the glass.  =Ye'll be in Miss Lily's afore the night's over, that I'll wager.=

        The bell on its wire jingled as the door brushed it aside, then again

as Frewling closed the door behind himself, stepping out onto the porch of the

train station.  He frowned at a chip on the cut-glass doorknob; terrible

maintenance of Company property in this town.  He'd have to speak with Perkins

about hiring a real maintenance man, and not using gamblers down on their luck

and drunks hard up for money.

        The morning sun burned pitilessly into his eyes, coming down at an

angle that ignored the short brim of his bowler, as he turned to the street.

Shadows were thrown long and sharp in the dust.  A few of the townsfolk

hurried by, merchants opening their shops, delivery boys with bags and bales,

and a wagon rolled past, stirring up the dust so bad as to make Frewling fit

to sneeze.  He dodged around the back end of the wagon, choosing to wade

through the dust while it was still low to the ground than swim through it as

it rose, and made his way across the single main street of Rattlesnake Gorge

to the saloon.

        The saloon's porch creaked ominously as he stepped up onto it.  The

large brown dog sprawled across the top step opened its eyes and looked up

without even moving as Frewling stepped over it and through the swinging doors

into the main room.

        Ah, at least that was in reasonable order.  Fresh sawdust on the

floor, a few stray motes dancing in the beam of early morning sun coming

through the poor-quality but clean windows telling him that the floor had just

been swept.  Several townsfolk sat about the tables, and the smell of frying

sausage and coffee was like manna to his dust-tortured nose.  Frewling set his

bag on the floor at the bar, and waited for the barkeep to notice him.

        Handing a plate of breakfast to the lone serving girl working at that

hour, the barman turned to Frewling.  His white shirt was freshly laundered,

its collar stiff with starch, and the sleeves shoved up and caught with a red

garter above each elbow. Frewling noted with approval the precision of the

man's black bow- tie and his carefully waxed mustache.  "Welcome t Rattlesnake

Gorge," the barman said.  "You come in on the morning train from Big Sky?"

        "Yes," Frewling replied, a bit uncomfortable at the attention the

customers at the tables were suddenly paying. "Breakfast, please, with


        Behind him, a young boy, perhaps twelve, in ragged pants much too

large for him, torn off at the knees and held up with a bit of rope, and a

baggy shirt that had seen better days, reached cautiously for the city

slicker's bag.  If he moved just right, and avoided that darned creaky board

fifth from the end of the bar, he could snatch the bag and be out the door

before the slicker knew what was happening.  The townsfolk wouldn't stop him,

or warn the slicker.  They were up for a bit of fun with a stranger as much as

he was.  A little further, just a little closer. . .

        And the touch of cold metal on his hand froze him in place. The

slicker's hand hid all but the last quarter-inch of the barrels from view, but

the derringer had appeared like a conjurer's trick, and pressed on his wrist,

threatening to maim him if he so much as twitched.  The boy looked up into

cold grey eyes that told him the truth about the slicker:  a lawman.

        "I wouldn't do that if I were you, boy," Frewling said quietly.

"You're much too young to lose that hand."

        "Please, sir," the boy said, turning on as much gamin charm as he

could muster, "I was hungry -- I didn't mean no harm, really..."

        "Oh, get on with you," Frewling said, unable to hold back a grin.

"I've dealt with urchins with more brass than you in Chicago, and they didn't

fool me either."  A twitch of his fingers, and the derringer vanished like a

prairie dog into its hole.  "But if you're relaly hungry, let's see what we

can do about that."  He stood up straight, and caught the barman's eye.

"Another breakfast, with milk, if you've got it."  Then to the boy, "And

what's your name, lad?"

        "Jake, sir."  This was too sudden a turn of events.  Jake's paranoia

was ringing alarms in the back of his head -- why was this lawman being nice

to him when he'd tried to steal the man's bag?  He didn't look like =that=

sort, that favored young boys, but you never knew.  Never too careful, he

always said.  But breakfast -- oh, and it smelled so good, and the lawman was

leading over to a table. Easier to sit down and eat and worry about an escape


        "Now, Jake," said Frewling, tucking into his sausages and biscuits,

"I'm John Frewling.  I just came into town, and I could use a pair of sharp

eyes to fill me in on things."  He paused, knife and fork held at the ready,

and gave the boy a sharp look.

        Jake swallowed with difficulty.  Getting the whole biscuit down at

once was a chore.  Sharp eyes?  Hm.  "Is there any coin to't?" he asked.

        Frewling chuckled.  "Straight to the matter, eh, lad?  I like that.

Well, that could be, depending on whether you deal me straight or dirty."  He

pointed his knife at Jake.  "I don't think I need to tell you what happens to

boys what cross the law, do I?"

        Jake shook his head, trying to look earnest.  At best, he managed

worried.  "No, sir, not me.  I done seen three hangin's in my life."

        Frewling applied his knife to a sausage.  "I don't think it'd be as

serious as that -- but we might have to find the orphanage you've no doubt run

away from."  His eyes flicked up from his plate and fixed Jake like a hawk

spotting a mouse.

        Jake gulped.  That would be bad.  That would be worse than a hangin',

to be sent back to the Church orphanage in Big Sky.  "I won't deal you off the

bottom, mister, never."

        "Well, then, perhaps we have a deal.  After breakfast, then, you could

show me to the widow Cotton's place.  I've business here in town that may keep

me a few days, and it'd be faster to have someone who knows the town to show

me around."  And maybe we could put a few pounds on you, Frewling thought,

noting the way the boy gulped down his breakfast like he hadn't had a proper

meal in days. Probaby hadn't, either.  Not like Chicago, this Arizona

Territory. Too few buildings, no open market in the streets where an urchin

could grab enough food on one pass down the barrows to last him the day.  Time

enough later to find out where the boy was living and under what conditions.

Time now for coffee and the local gossip.

        "So, Jake."

        Jake looked up with a start.  The lawman had been quiet for a while.

This could be trouble.


        "John.  My name's John."

        "John, then, it is."  It felt odd addressing a lawman by his Christian

name.  Jake only hoped this wasn't a prelude to something bad.

        "Tell me about Rattlesnake Gorge."  Frewling sipped at his coffee;

almost gone, he'd best catch the girl's eye while she was passing.  "Thank

you," he told her as she refilled his cup.

        "What d'ye wanna know?" Jake asked.

        "Oh, all about it.  Who's the sheriff and what kind of man is he?

What games are on, and where?  Who's courting who?"

        That last was easy enough.  A twelve year old boy noticed anyone

walking close.  "Well, there's Tyler the blacksmith, he's sweet on Annie what

teaches t'the school-house..."



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